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What is Your Organization's E-Culture?

As I'm preparing for an interview on November 5 on Blog talk radio, I've gotten to thinking... With all the volunteer organizations on Nantucket, with many volunteers off island sporadically or during the winter, we have a propensity to manage by email. It's a great tool, but can be misused or overused, causing frustration rather than excitement.

Have you ever stopped to think about whether you are managing your email or whether it is managing you? Have you considered that question for your entire department, organization or business? Is yours a positive email culture or a workplace drain?

Easy Yet Difficult

Taking control of your organization’s email culture is easy, yet difficult. Understanding the targeted behavior is easy, getting people to change behavior – even a little bit – can be the bigger challenge. This challenge is twofold.

  1. Getting everyone to buy in to having a productive email culture
  2. (And more difficult) – Working with them to change and then engrain collective, productive habits that are followed daily.

Repetition creates habits. Repetition of time-sucking practices creates bad habits. Time-wasting habits become engrained the more email a person handles. And the productivity of the organization collectively suffers.

Changing Habits Takes Focus

The important point is to recognize that changing those habits is not a one-time event; it requires ongoing reinforcement. Anyone who has ever changed a habit will attest to the focused attention that is needed to engrain a new habit. Why would email habits be any different? The ability to keep positive practices present, to reward the “right” behavior, and model that behavior are assets in helping managers shift their email cultures. Focused attention to the shift in behaviors is key to reclaiming the productivity that you may not have realized you lost.

Herding Cats

Adding to the challenge is that no two emailers have the same time-sapping habits – in a company of 200 employees, it is like trying to herd 200 cats. If everyone used the same wasteful practice, a well-managed office could correct the drain rather quickly. That’s why focus on shifting the culture is key.

The Three Best Practices

With so many emailing practices out there, are there some that, if changed, have the most impact on productivity? Yes. We believe that there are three that, if collectively accepted and implemented by your group, will bring noticeable productivity gains. These are featured in more detail in our free white paper, “Email Culture – Are your Managing It or is It Managing You?” These three culture shifts are the keystone of our popular “Clean Out Your Inbox Week” email productivity campaign, which is featured in Chases’ Calendar of Events, always the last full week in January.

They are:

  1. Never use email urgently; telephone or visit if a response is needed in under 3 hours.
  2. Visit your inbox to check email no more than 5 times daily.
  3. Keep your inbox clean. End each inbox viewing session with an empty inbox.

Before you laugh off these suggestions, consider the increased productivity and focused attention that can be gained by implementing these suggestions office wide and what they might mean to your business’s productivity.

1. Never use email urgently. Using email for urgent matters creates an environment where people feel that they MUST view each email as it comes in. When one person in authority sends an urgent email, co-workers “learn” that they cannot shut their inboxes down to focus on other work. They need to be open, dinging and flashing “just in case” an important email shows up. Most managers don’t realize how costly interruptions can be because of the continual disruption to focus.

Tip: We like to suggest that ANYTHING requiring a response in less than 3 hours be handled by a visit or a phone call.

2. Check Email Only Five Times Daily. Interruptions eat away at your time, and time is money, so it is prudent to reduce the number of times you reactively view and sort email – and not only you, but everyone in your business circle.

We already know that each interruption takes you an average of 4 minutes to recover – to “get back in the zone” after the interruption. Allowing yourself to be interrupted by just 15 emails a day has just cost you 60 minutes (15 emails x 4 minutes) of recovery time. If you shift to proactively checking your email only FIVE times daily, (5 times x 4 minutes) you just saved yourself 40 minutes – each day. Multiply that times everyone in your business circle!

3. Keep your inbox clean. There are many reasons that a clean, or empty, inbox is the third of the triad that will enhance your company’s collective productivity. By taking control of your work and not letting that inbox draw you in, you are more able to work on the truly important items that will advance your business and your collective bottom line. When your inbox is empty, your virtual workspace is open. All of this enables you to plan and execute your day in a proactive way and effectively take charge of your work. More thought about this from Real Simple…

Here’s how:

This simple distinction holds one of the great keys to e-productivity. “Sort” rather than “work” your inbox. Many people confuse sorting emails and handling emails. They think of them as one task, but they are not. Each time you go into your inbox, it should be to sort your mail, not handle it. And each time you sort, the email should be deleted, handled, delegated, or moved to a folder so that it can be worked in its correct priority.

The Collective Impact

Your best results will come when your entire business unit collectively embraces the importance of a positive email culture. These concepts, once understood, need to be embraced, applied, and perpetuated.  It is worthy of attention at the highest level.  And once those become new productive habits, it makes the way for further refinement and expansion to more time-saving habits.

Marsha Egan, CSP, PCC, is CEO of The Egan Group, Inc., Nantucket, MA. An ICF Certified Professional Coach, she is a leading authority on email productivity. She works with companies who want to recover lost time and money due to wasteful email practices. Her recently released book and eBook, “Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-Mail Excellence,” is available on Amazon and on her website at http://InboxDetox.com.